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Electoral Integrity in Nigeria(A Nation in Ruins)

By Dr Anthony Chuka Konwea, PE
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We are now in the ‘business end’ of things in Nigeria’s current electoral cycle. On February 16, 2019, Nigerians will be heading to the polls to elect a new President for the 2019 – 2023 term. In saner climes, this is the time when party organizers and party agents intensify their canvassing for votes. In those countries, this is the time when undecided voters are treated like royalty. A time when community organizers embark on door to door campaigns targeted exclusively at these undecided voters.

In Nigeria where things are turned on their heads, the business end literally means what it suggests. With outdoor rallies mostly concluded, this is the time when raw cash makes its move. It is the time when tribal and opinion leaders are treated like royalty. This is the time when the party in power, flush with cash from the national treasury goes about inducing tribal and opinion leaders with tons of cash in exchange for commitment to deliver their community votes.

Expect religious leaders to start converging at Abuja or other state capitals ‘to pray’ for peaceful elections. They will not be praying for anything more worthwhile than to line the seams of their religious robes and garments with dollars. Expect traditional rulers to hold urgent meetings across the country ostensibly dedicated to achieving peaceful elections. The only item on their agenda will however be the ‘revenue’ sharing formula to be adopted between first-class, second-class and third-class chiefs!

The trend of inducing tribal and opinion leaders with gifts and cash occurred evenunder military rule. I am a living witness to the fact that one sunny weekendwhen the late military dictator General Sani Abacha was planning to transmute from military head of state to ‘elected’ President, he sent tribal rulers exotic car gifts they ‘dared not’refuse.

The ‘royal’ recipients of the unsolicited gifts converged in Abuja the following Monday in their brand-new vehicles for a meeting. While there they prayed for and endorsed Abacha’s intentions. Your guess is as good as mine as to whether they left Abuja empty-handed andwith their besieged integrity not further compromised. To almost every one’s relief, General Abacha died rather mysteriously a few months later in 1998.

The main opposition Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) which ruled Nigeria from 1999 to 2015 perfected the electionmonkey-business model. By the time they lost power in 2015, the parties had started dipping their hands into government treasuries under their control to finance their elections.

The election of the late Umaru Musa Yar’Adua as President in 2007 was funded from the Delta State government treasury. As a reward the then out-going Delta State Governor James Ibori nominated his man Mr. David Edevbie as the Principal Secretary to the President and was himself poised for a greater role in Government but for his then extant court cases.

In 2015, then President Goodluck Jonathan, fighting for his political life, threw all caution to the winds and adopted the Abacha monkey-style business model to the letter. Unfortunately for him, coming from a minority tribal background, with the politically indifferent Igbo majority as his electoral back-bone, and with a campaign organization riddled with “northern” saboteurs, he suffered a remarkable defeat.

The sanctimonious, and utterly hypocritical All Progressives Congress (APC) party led by President Muhammadu Buhari which was the leading opposition party in 2015 also adopted the same monkey-style business model. They were however successful owing to phenomenal support from the Hausa-Fulani and Yoruba majority ethnic groups and significant elements of the Southern minorities.

Few can dispute the assertion that the election of current President Muhammadu Buhari in 2015 was funded from the Rivers State and Lagos State government treasuries respectively.(Full disclosure: I regrettably granted Muhammadu Buhari conditional support in my public opinion pieces in the run-up to the 2015 elections).

Rotimi Chibuike Amechi and Babatunde Fashola the respective ex-governors of Rivers and Lagos states became super ministers in Buhari’s government as reward for their contributions. Rotimi Amechi was in 2015 and is presently the Director-General of President Muhammadu Buhari’s campaign organization.

President Buhari parades himself sanctimoniously and hypocritically as a man of integrity, zealously fighting corruption.He unleashed the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) ruthlesslyagainst PDP stalwarts accused of funding their futile 2015 election campaignwith monies stolen from the national treasury. Their criminal cases are still in court. Which is fair enough as people accused of criminal acts should have their day in court.

To this day however, the same EFCC which prosecuted Governor James Ibori to a standstill for a similar criminal offence did not once invite ex-governors Rotimi Amechi and Babatunde Fashola to explain their alleged roles in funding President Muhammadu Buhari’s 2015 election. Both are still super-Ministers of the Federal Republic of Nigeria under the catastrophic President Buhari Administration.

Whichmakes one recall the eight woes of the Scribes and Pharisees listed in the biblical book of Mathew chapter 23. Verily Jesus Christ could have been speaking to Nigeria’s current Leaders when he said:

“The scribes and the Pharisees have taken their seat on the chair of Moses. Therefore, do and observe all things they tell you but do not follow their example. For they preach but do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens hard to carry and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they will not lift a finger to move them. All their works are performed to be seen.”Mathew 23:1-4

He may have even more so been addressing them in the seventh woe.

“Woe to you scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You are like whitewashed tombs which appear beautiful on the outside but inside are full of dead men’s bones and every kind of filth. Even so on the outside you appear righteous, but inside you are filled with hypocrisy and evildoing.”Mathew 23:27-28

While this writer may seem rather harsh on the current Buhari Administration it is worth remembering that no Administration in Nigeria has claimed so much sanctimony and integrity as does this Administration. They came into power bearing the banner of change, and proudly flaunting Buhari’s personal “integrity,” his uncompromising fight against corruption and precious little else.

In deed Buhari has been unrelenting in fighting corruption only when opposition PDP elements seem to be directly implicated. He spins excuses when his own henchmen and party stalwarts are involved. No wonder many of the people who made the PDP so notorious for corruption have found shelter in Buhari’s APC.

More insidiously Buhari has carefully and methodically planted his own Fulani tribesmen or fellow Northern Muslims in key positions in Nigeria. This is the most blatant ‘to-your-face’ display of nepotism ever witnessed in Nigeria’s history. Mark you Nigeria is a country world-renowned for inter-ethnic rivalry and ethnic chauvinism.

This last point is very crucial because fiduciary loyalties in Nigeria are often based on narrow ethnic or religious consanguinity rather than on justice, fair-play or even regard to the Constitution. One of the major accusations rabidly levied against former President Goodluck Jonathan (an ethnic Ijaw) by Buhari and northern Muslims was that he (i.e. Jonathan) had inordinately appointed too many ethnic Igbos into key positions in the Jonathan Administration. A case of the pot calling the kettle black, President Buhari has done much worse than Jonathan in this regard. Talk of change.

At least in President Jonathan’s case, most of his appointees were competent people who delivered relatively good results. Under Jonathan’s Administration, Nigeria became the No 1. Economy in Africa (admittedly with some fortuitous re-basing of GDP measurement yardsticks).

President Jonathan’s undoing apart from the fact that he was not Fulani was that he appeared to be indifferent to widespread looting by his friends, acolytes and associates. In deed Jonathan once famously said that stealing was not corruption.

Contrarily, President Buhari’s appointees have mostly been incompetent people with no clue whatsoever about what they are supposed to be doing in their positions. Incompetent people also appoint incompetent subordinates so the virus of incompetency trickles down from the top to the bottom. It is not a surprise therefore that under Buhari’s watch Nigeria has emerged as the poverty capital of the world.

Buhari’s carefully orchestrated ‘Fulanization’ of the bureaucracy, security services, armed forces, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and latterly the judiciary are self-serving, self-perpetuation gimmicks designed solely to retain him in office regardless of his woeful performance.

Nowhere have his self-serving,nepotistic abuse of office been more evident than firstly in his criminal, conniving handling of the Fulani herdsmen expansionist onslaught on Nigerian peasants. And secondly in his panicky, roughshod and unconstitutional removal of the beleaguered Chief Justice of Nigeria Walter Onnoghen on the very day he was to constitute the electoral petitions tribunal.

Fearing a resounding electoral defeat due to his pitiably abject performance in office,Buhari has primed and weaponized INEC, the police, the security agencies, and the Army as his agents of electoral subversion.Hisunilateral and unconstitutional removal of the Chief Justice of Nigeria was the final piece in the puzzle of his brazen attempts to subvert the wish of the Nigerian people should they as expected overwhelmingly vote for a change.

It is quite glaring that under Buhari, Nigeria has changed for the worse. His puritanical claim to integrity is a hypocritical hoax. His tenure in office has been characterized by one administrative blunder after the other, week in and week out. He has demonstratedan unparalleled incompetence and ill-preparedness for the job of President. There are no signs that he would ever get better because in his mind he is the best thing ever to happen to Nigeria while learning on the job is beyond him.

His main challenger in this year’s elections is former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar, a formidable personality with incredible stamina physically, administratively, financially and some would add erotically. A consummate politician Atiku has seen it all. He has done this and done that. This is undoubtedly his best and most probably his last chance at the Presidency.

But Atiku made two back-to-back mistakes in his electoral campaigns which have certainly raised eyebrows in informed circles. Both mistakes overshadowed by Buhari’s ouster of the Chief Justice of Nigeria were aimed at getting a bigger slice of the Fulani vote which Buhari has apparently locked up for obvious reasons.

First,Atiku claimed in a campaign rally in Jigawa State that Buhari is not a full-fledged Fulani man because he cannot speak Fulfulde, the Fulani language. However, in response the National Secretary of the Fulani Herdsmen’s apex organization Miyetti Allah, Saleh Alhassan attacked Atiku Abubakar. He said that Buhari’s inability to speak Fulfulde does not make him any less a Fulani man just as the fact that Atiku speaks Fulfulde does not make him a Fulani man.

Saleh Alhassan then added the clincher as quoted verbatim in the Daily Post online medium on January 23, 2019. “If you look at Atiku physically, he doesn’t carry the biological features of a Fulani man. You look at Atiku and you see the Bantu tribe. He doesn’t belong to the Sudanic tribe. Also, we don’t know Atiku’s uncle and all Fulani know their uncles. Have you ever seen Atiku’s uncle? His claim to Fulani background is shrouded in uncertainty because nobody knows his uncles. Buhari’s ‘Fulaniness’ is not in doubt. His father was an Ardo, a Fulani leader. So, I think it is not an issue.”

Current Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo’s recent appeal to his fellow Yoruba to vote the APC to brighten the Yoruba’s chances of winning the Presidency in 2023 was a shortsighted mistake unbecoming of a national leader.So too was Atiku’s attack on Buhari as not being Fulani enough. What has Atiku’s bizarre gush of ‘Fulanitude’ got to do with the Presidency of Nigeria?

In fairness to Buhari, his mother by his own admission was Kanuri while Hausa is the language of choice in Daura his assumed hometown. (Some unverified accounts suggest that Buhari’s father or grandfather migrated to Nigeria from nearby Niger Republic). It is understandable therefore although surprising that Buhari cannot speak Fulfulde.

Given Buhari’s lifelong mission of promoting Fulani and Kanuri interests, one would have expected him to be fluent in both languages. It is however a testimony to Buhari’salleged intellectual laziness that over these years he could not even take the pains to learn to speak Fulfulde his native tongue. One wonders if he can even speak Kanuri, his mother-tongue at all.

Perhaps in a bid to further ingratiate himself to the Fulani herdsmen particularly and the Fulani in general, Atiku made his second mistake in his outing in ‘The Candidates’ townhall series hosted by Kadaria Ahmed. Kadaria asked him about how he would end the misnamed Herders-Farmers clashes in Nigeria. (In reality it is a mostly unilateral Herders’aggression on Nigerian peasants).

Atiku responded by stating that the solution is to try and enlighten the herdsmen on the use of feeding lots which can conveniently be established all over the country. His solution while unsatisfactory appears very close to mine. It is unsatisfactory because the final solution is to resort to ranching. I have much earlier suggested anintermediate solution cum plan thatwould accommodate poor herdsmen who do not have the means to acquire and establishranches.

Under my plan, local government areas in Nigeria should be encouraged to create secured livestock markets where indigent herdsmen may keep their cattle, provided they: 1) do not live inside the markets themselves, 2) pay rent and taxes to the local governments, 3) purchase feed for their cattle from rural peasants or elsewhere and 4) find or rent personal accommodation nearby.

It is easy to see that what Atiku calls feeding lots is semantically synonymous with what I call livestock markets provided the four conditions listed above are met.

Atiku’sbig blunder came about when Kadaria asked him about his opinion about the anti-grazing law in Benue State. He responded by saying as quoted by the Vanguard Newspapers online medium on February 2, 2019: “we have to look at the constitutionality of those laws. I am not sure whether they fall within the provisions of our constitution which guarantees free movement and the right to decide wherever you want to live in the country.”

Not defending the Benue State government, it is my understanding that at no time did they prohibit the free movement of Fulani herdsmen in Benue Stateor their right to live therein. What the Benue State anti-grazing law says to the best of my knowledge is that nobody may move their cattle by foot. Cattle may be moved from one point to the other aboard vehicles, so the freedom of movement is guaranteed by the Benue State anti-grazing law. The right of one citizen ends where the rights of other citizens begin.

No one has the right to endanger the lives of others by their actions. Fulani herdsmen do not have the rights to trespass into privately owned farmlands or community-owned lands and forests in Benue State. They also do not have the right to move their cattle on foot in Benue State roads thereby endangering the lives of other road users. Nobody would dare do that in any civilized country in the world. Benue State chooses to join the ranks of civilized societies in this regard and should be applauded by all for their bold move.

As alluded to at the very beginning of this piece, we are at the business end of the electoral contest where community leaders, party organizers and dirty tricks specialists reign supreme in Nigeria. Paid employees of the State be they INEC rank and file, Youth Corps members, police rank and file, army rank and file, or judiciary rank and file should heed the advice of Jesus Christ.

These agents or employees of the State should do what President Buhari who parades himself as a man of integrity says and certainly not what he does by securing the integrityof our February 2019 elections no matter whose ox is gored.Let qualified Nigerian voters’ votes truly count electorally with manifest integrity.

Side note: May I crave readers’ indulgence to pay a short tribute to my late boss, mentor, client and close family friend the late Engr (Chief) Gabriel Ikemefuna Oluonye of Okpanam town, Delta State. “G.I.” as we used to call him (behind his back of course) died recently in his mid to late nineties. He was at several times the Chief Engineer of the Eastern Region of Nigeria, Chief Engineer of the defunct Republic of Biafra, World Bank Civil Engineer, and Managing Partner of the defunct Oluonye and Partners. His two immediate younger brothers the late Engr. Peter Oluonye and the late Engr. Paul Oluonye who were twins and who predeceased him separately were also Civil Engineers. One of the two (I think it was Paul) was the Chief Engineer at Nkalagu Cement Factory before and during the Nigerian Civil War.

There is a long and storied relationship between the Oluonye family and my maternal Nwanze family. G.I.’s late father who worked in the Nigerian Post Office and my late maternal grandfather who worked in the Marines which later became the Nigerian Ports Authorities were bosom friends. So close were they that my maternal grandfather helped the Elder Oluonye to secure a piece of land in Cable Point, Asaba beside his own where both men built identical houses. G.I. was also a contemporary and close friend of my maternal uncle the late Engr. Sunny ChukwuedoNwanze, a pioneer Chemical Engineer in Nigeria who was also the first indigenous Director of the Nigerian Instute for Oil Palm Research (NIFOR) near Benin City and who died during the Nigerian Civil War. My maternal grandfather’s house was destroyed during the Nigerian Civil War by Federal Soldiers as they sought my late uncle Sunny, but the late G.I.’s father’s house still stands to this day.

G.I. was in my opinion one of the greatest and top three Highway Engineer’s Nigeria has ever produced to this day, living or dead. The man was phenomenally talented and had superb highway engineering instinct. He earned an M.Sc. in Civil Engineering from the University of Michigan I believe in the 1950s. He also had a prodigious memory. I used to joke that if I had one tenth of the memory of G.I. I would consider myself a genius. His highway engineering design principle was ‘keep it simple and meticulously track the water’ alluding to the fact that water is the highway engineer’s greatest enemy. In engineering circles, the G.I. signature was considered as the gold stamp of quality. G.I. also had a hawk’s eye for engineering detail. In those days I would go on a 100 km road reconnaissance/condition survey with him. I would be armed with a pad which would be full of scribbles while G.I. would have a small pocket note book where he would probably make just one page of notes. At the end G.I. would recall more technical details in his own report than me! The man was that good.

Wiry and slim built, G.I. ate very sparingly. He was neither a womanizer nor a smoker but even while in his eighties he had a formidable stamina and appetite for alcohol. He often drank me right under the table while never losing his memory or cognition. I never saw him drunk. A survivor of multiple strokes and several stomach surgeries, G.I. was as hard as steel. In a country short of integrity, he was truly a man of unimpeachable integrity from who I learnt the quiet, dignity of professional labor. G.I. was a great engineer and an irreplaceable man who would be sorely missed by his family and friends including me.I am greatly enriched by the opportunity of working under, alongside and later for him as my client.

Anthony Chuka Konwea, Ph.D., P.E., M.ASCE, MNSE, FNIStructE, MNICE.

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